The Pragmatic Craft of Governance: Alternative Strategies of Chinese Medieval Rulership
4: Modeling Taizong's Art of Governance in the Eighteenth-Century German-speaking World
Friday, March 25, 2022
9:30am – 11:00am EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 313B
Hilde De Weerdt
Leiden University, Netherlands
From the middle decades of the eighteenth century onwards, Tang Emperor Taizong was cited in French, German, English, Italian, and Dutch books and periodicals as a model. I will present two examples of the adaptation of early translations of Chinese political advice literature related to Taizong’s court into comprehensive universal models of good governance in eighteenth-century Europe. The first case shows how the translation of Chinese governance texts initially gave impetus to new and bold critiques of European governance and to comparative work with theoretical implications and practical consequences for institutional and policy reform. The second case extended the first approach, i.e., the comparative theoretical analysis of monarchies, into a historical utopian novel that offered a model for political and social reform with broad appeal. It is, for partially justifiable reasons, commonplace to represent early modern European models of Chinese governance as over-determined by European concerns and the mere reflection of European fantasies; I will argue that such critiques tend to miss and underestimate the cultural challenges and effect of the alternative governance models that were sought in but also made available through translations of a wide range of Chinese political and administrative literature.